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Archive for the ‘Governor’s Office’ Category

When Monica Manzella showed up for her first meeting of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) last November, she received a warm greeting and a hug from State Police Lieutenant Rodney Hyatt.

We were curious how they knew each other so well. It was, after all, her first meeting.

Hyatt, other than his state trooper duties, also was—and still is—President of the Headquarters Chapter of the Louisiana State Police Association (LSTA). Click HERE. He is also one of the four troopers who drove a state vehicle to San Diego via the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas last October to cheer on and party with their boss, then-State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson as he received a national award.

Manzella, appointed to the LSPC last October, was an assistant city attorney for the City of New Orleans and had, as part of her duties, signed off on Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE) contracts between the City of New Orleans and Louisiana State Police (LSP). Under LACE, state police are paid by the local district attorney to help beef up traffic enforcement. Some characterized her work on the contracts and her appointment to the commission as a possible conflict of interest but she dismissed that concern out of hand.

Other than his position as headquarters chapter president of LSTA and her signing off on LACE contracts, there was no apparent connection or any obvious reason why the two would be on such friendly terms at her very first meeting.

But thanks to the wife of retired state trooper Leon “Bucky” Millet of Lake Arthur, a connection that appears a little more than casual has been discovered.

Bucky Millet first set the stage a year ago at the LSPC meeting of August 11, 2016, when he filed a formal complaint about the manner in which LSPC members were supposed to be appointed and the manner in which those requirements were being ignored.

[Please keep in mind that LSPC is the Louisiana State Police Commission, which rules on appeals of troopers subjected to discipline and LSTA is the private, non-profit association comprised of active and (some) retired state troopers as members. Some retirees have been expelled from the LSTA for questioning certain activities. The two, LSPC and LSTA, are completely separate entities.]

In his complaint, Millet referenced Article X, Part IV, Section 43(C) of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974 which stipulates the following:

  • The presidents of Centenary College at Shreveport, Dillard University at New Orleans, Louisiana College at Pineville, Loyola University at New Orleans, Tulane University of Louisiana at New Orleans, and Xavier University at New Orleans, after giving consideration to representation of all groups, each shall nominate three persons. The governor shall appoint one member of the commission from the three persons nominated by each president. One member of the commission shall be elected by the classified state police officers of the state from their number as provided by law. A vacancy for any cause shall be filled by appointment or election in accordance with the procedure or law governing the original appointment or election, and from the same source. Within thirty days after a vacancy occurs, the president concerned shall submit the required nominations. Within thirty days thereafter, the governor shall make his appointment. If the governor fails to appoint within thirty days, the nominee whose name is first on the list of nominees automatically shall become a member of the commission. If any nominating authority fails to submit nominees in the time required, or if one of the named institutions ceases to exist, the governor shall make the appointment to the commission.

LouisianaVoice had earlier made a public records requests for any such letters of nominations from the university presidents. Only a single letter from Centenary College President Kenneth Schwab to then-Gov. Mike Foster dated Jan. 15, 2003, was provided.

For the full story of just how dysfunctional the LSPC was at that meeting, click HERE.

So, when Manzella was appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards two months later, was that procedure finally followed? Well, yes and most probably not so much.

Thanks to Vivian Millet’s extensive Internet search, we now know that Lt. Hyatt and Manzella had their own history, dating back to March of 2016.

It seems that both Hyatt and Manzella were among 28 attendees from across the U.S. who earned their security Master of Arts degrees in Security Studies at the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) in Monterey, California, on March 25.

The CHDS curriculum is an 18-month master’s degree program in homeland security.

Click HERE to see the press release and to see a class photo of the proud graduates. It’s a rather small photo, so here’s a little help with the identities: Hyatt is on the far right in the front row in complete Louisiana State Police uniform and Manzella is behind him and to his right, in the red top.

Which brings us to the question of how she got her appointment to LSPC.

She obtained her J.D. in Law from Loyola University of New Orleans in 2005 (click HERE). Loyola could have been expected to nominate one of its alumni—if it had been asked to do so.

That certainly makes sense. But it didn’t go down that way and with Hyatt in a key position with the LSTA and with LSTA the subject of what the LSPC attempted to pass off as an ongoing “investigation” of its illegal campaign contributions funneled through the personal bank account of the LSTA executive director, the stage was certainly set for a little politicking on her behalf. LSTA needed desperately to stack the commission with members friendly to the LSTA who would lend comfort and support to LSPC Chairman, State Trooper T.J. Doss and other like-minded members.

So, did Hyatt and the LSTA exert a little friendly persuasion to secure a seat on the commission for Manzella? Did they engage in a little back channel diplomacy in order to wrangle the appointment of a member guaranteed to be friendly to the LSTA?

Given the outcome of that investigation by Natchitoches attorney Taylor Townsend, who still has yet to provide a written report of his findings as required by his $75,000 contract and despite repeated demands that he do so, it would seem the Manzella—and subsequent—appointments have paid off handsomely for the LSTA. She has been everything LSTA could want—and more, as she moved from new member to vice chairman of the commission in a matter of just a few months while voting the LSTA line.

Which only underscores the necessity of at most, abolishing the LSPC and to put a constitutional amendment before voters to bring LSP under State Civil Service as it once was or at least, wiping the slate clean and beginning anew with all new members, unaffiliated with any political faction or with any organization and with the common goal of cleaning up the image of State Police and the troubled LSPC.

Failing either of those options, the term “Tarnished Badge” will soon refer to something other than just the nom de plume of a frequent commenter to LouisianaVoice posts.

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Troy Hebert just won’t go away.

But in this case, he’s probably like to.

The former commissioner of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) is scheduled in U.S. District Court Monday as a federal racial discrimination LAWSUIT  against him and ATC cranks up.

The lawsuit, to be tried before U.S. District Court Judge John W. DeGravelles, was filed by former ATC agent Charles M. Gilmore of Baton Rouge, Daimin T. McDowell of Bossier Parish, and Larry J. Hingle of Jefferson Parish.

The three claim that Hebert made working conditions so bad that employees had to take medical leave or were forced to resign. Each of the three filed separate complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received “right to sue” notices.

LouisianaVoice first reported the filing of the lawsuit three years ago, in July 2014. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/07/14/forcing-grown-men-to-write-lines-overnight-transfers-other-bizarre-actions-by-troy-hebert-culminate-in-federal-lawsuit

The lawsuit says five African-American supervisors worked in the ATC Enforcement Division when Hebert, a former state senator from Jeanerette, was appointed by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal in November 2010. “By means of the manipulative actions by Troy Hebert…there are now no African-American supervisors within the ATC Enforcement Division,” the petition says.

Prior to Hebert’s appointment, the three “had unblemished records with no prior disciplinary actions,” the suit says. “Each…had been promoted to supervisory positions at ATC before Troy Hebert’s arrival.”

The suit says Hebert “deliberately acted in disregard of the plaintiffs’ clearly established rights to be free from racial discrimination, race-based harassment and retaliation.

Gilmore worked for 10 years as a corrections sergeant and Louisiana State Police trooper before joining ATC in 1998 where he worked his way up to Special Agent in Charge until he was “constructively discharged” by Hebert on Sept. 27, 2013, the lawsuit says.

“Constructive discharge” is when working conditions become so intolerable that an employee cannot stay in the position or accepts forced resignation.

McDowell was hired by ATC in 2005 and in his seven years was promoted three times. Hingle was hired in 1991. During his 21 years of employment, he was also promoted three times.

The lawsuit also alleges that on Aug. 22, 2012, two days after taking leave, Gilmore and McDowell were told by fellow agent Brette Tingle that Hebert intended to break up the “black trio” a reference to Gilmore, McDowell and Supervising Agent Bennie Walters. Walters was subsequently fired on Sept. 7.

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The FBI appears to have taken quite a liking to Amite, the parish seat of Tangipahoa Parish and the home town of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

For the third time in the last seven months, federal agents have come calling, this time armed with subpoenas for many of the town’s elected officials, including the mayor, police chief and most, if not all, of the Amite Town Council members.

Sources told LouisianaVoice the list included Mayor Buddy Bel, Mayor Pro Tem Jonathan Foster, council members Neil Carrier and Rose Sumrall, and Police Chief Jerry Trabona, Independence Town Council member Calvin Baptiste, former Roseland Mayor Louis Ruffino and Amite businessman Tom Ed Brumfield.

Two independent sources told LouisianaVoice the FBI is investigating allegation of vote buying in the 2015 statewide election in which John Bel Edwards was elected governor and his brother, Daniel, was re-elected sheriff.

Unconfirmed reports said a judge and an attorney are also under investigation for their alleged participation in the vote-buying.

While it may not be the specific voter fraud that Donald Trump has been alleging—his election was a year later and he claimed illegal voters, not vote-buying—but it has attracted the attention of federal investigators who were said to be looking into claims of widespread distributions of cash for votes on election day.

There was no word on which candidates the cash was supposed to help.

One of those served with a subpoena, Baptiste, is an employee of the sheriff’s office and a member of the Independence Town Council. He was earlier embroiled in allegations of VOTE BUYING lodged by local businessman Larry Holland.

It was unclear what role those issued subpoenas might have played or what information they may have that brought them to the attention of investigators but the folks in Amite must feel by now that they’re on a first-name basis with federal agents and are exchanging vacation stories.

Last December, about 100 federal agents simultaneously RAIDED the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Hammond Police Office in a far-reaching U.S. Justice Department investigation of a joint federal drug task force that also included sheriff’s deputies. Computers, cellphones and case files were seized in those raids.

Three months later, they were back, this time to investigate a fraudulent bail-bond SCHEME involving several sheriff’s department employees.

Fraudulent bail-bond operations are certainly not new to Louisiana and federal authorities successfully PROSECUTED one such scam in New Orleans earlier this year.

LouisianaVoice will monitor the activities of the Amite branch office of the U.S. Justice Department and provide updates as received.

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After viewing WVUE-TV Lee Zurik’s report on the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC), several things are abundantly clear:

  • If a State Police report is accurate, commission member Calvin Braxton must go but it has to be a package deal with fellow member Jared Caruso-Riecke also being shown the door.
  • The commission, embroiled in tawdry political theatrics, is no longer functional if, indeed, it really ever was. It is incapable of autonomy and must be abandoned and Louisiana State Police (LSP) brought back under the management of the Louisiana Civil Service Commission.
  • In the alternative, if it is to remain intact, there must be put in place a prohibition against a state trooper’s serving as chairman.

LouisianaVoice has been upfront in its past support of Braxton, primarily because he is something of a maverick who refused to take his marching orders from former State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson. He often bucked the rest of the board and he asked probing questions that made some other members more than a little uncomfortable. The commission needed such a member.

Our 180-flip, based in large part on Zurik’s excellent REPORT Monday night, isn’t because Braxton had a couple of tickets fixed—or that he apparently imposed on then-LSPC Executive Director Cathy Derbonne to write letters on his behalf in efforts to put the fix in.

Who among us has never had a ticket taken care of by friends in the right places? In the spirit of full disclosure, I have on a couple of occasions. My first was as a 21-year-old and was issued as the result of an accident that I still maintain, after 52 years, was not my fault. Not knowing any better, I showed up in court in Farmerville in Union Parish only to have District Attorney Ragan Madden (he represented the 3rd Judicial District, which includes Union and Lincoln, my home parish) meet me at the back of the courtroom. “What’re you doing here? I dismissed your ticket. Go home.”

Wow. And I didn’t even ask. Guess he felt the accident wasn’t my fault either.

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that I also paid a few tickets along the way, even though in two cases, I was offered the fix, but politely declined. Also in the interest of full disclosure, none of the tickets were for anything major (other than the accident)—a rolling stop and a couple of speeding offenses but only about 15 mph over the limit.

When fellow blogger and occasional LouisianaVoice contributor Robert Burns suggested the ticket-fixing would force Gov. John Bel Edwards to remove Braxton from the commission, my first rhetorical question was: How many tickets do you suppose the governor’s brother, Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards, may have fixed over the years?

No, it wasn’t the attempt to get tickets fixed that concerned me. It was Zurik’s revelation that Braxton had apparently attempted to have the state trooper who arrested his daughter for DUI transferred and that he implied that as a member of LSPC, he might be disinclined to help the trooper should he ever find himself before the commission for disciplinary action.

Those allegations were contained in a lengthy report by Troop E Commander Captain J.D. Oliphant to the Region 3 Command Inspector that was brandished by Zurik.

Such behavior on the part of a member of the commission that oversees the actions of Louisiana State Troopers in unacceptable. Period.

Granted, Zurik blindsided Braxton at the LSPC meeting last Thursday. Some call it “ambush journalism,” but Braxton has exhibited a reluctance to talk to anyone in the media, LouisianaVoice included, and the direct approach was apparently the only one available to Zurik.

And Braxton’s sudden memory loss concerning his communications with Derbonne was clumsy and was certainly less than convincing.

So why would I insist that Caruso-Riecke be removed from the commission along with Braxton?

Not because he has been a divisive force since his appointment by Gov. Edwards, though he has certainly been that.

My contention is that while Braxton has been issued tickets and then tried to get them fixed, Caruso-Riecke has made it a point of considerable pride that he avoids tickets because…

He cheats. He openly violates the law and even boasts about it on his internet Web page.

You can hear it in his own words HERE and about his wager with Team Texas HERE.

You see, Riecke, who is worth an estimated $70 million, has a lot of time on his hands to pursue his hobby as a star in a TV reality show in which he uses his modified Mercedes in cross-country rally competition, tearing down the nation’s highways at speeds of up to 140 mph.

His vehicle is equipped with two in-dash police scanners with more than 1,000 channels—concealed by a fake dashboard, a handheld scanner and several cellphones, all used to evade law enforcement on public highways.

But here’s the real clincher: his car has 10 separate license plates to help evade law enforcement.

That raises the obvious question of how one gets 10 separate license plates issued to the same vehicle. Or does he pull plates from other cars to use to escape police?

Well, he is a licensed auto dealer, so perhaps he has access to plates from other vehicles. Or maybe he registered the vehicle in multiple states—sort of like Donald Trump’s claim of multiple-state voter registration fraud.

But no one appears to be concerned about that. When Floyd Falcon, attorney for the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA), fired off a LETTER to Gov. Edwards on July 11, 2016, asking that Braxton be removed from the commission, he included a laundry list of 20 specific complaints and also included a four-page State Police Incident Report by Oliphant and submitted to Region 3 Command Inspector Kevin Reeves (since named as Edmonson’s successor as Superintendent of State Police with Oliphant promoted to Major and moved to Reeves’ former post as Region 3 Command Inspector) which detailed Braxton’s alleged threats against the State Trooper who arrested his daughter.

Falcon has been strangely quiet about Caruso-Riecke’s somewhat cavalier attitude about speeding, eluding law enforcement by illegally switching license plates (and yes, it is definitely illegal). But there seems to be no indignation over his thumbing his nose at the law.

But Riecke won’t be removed by Edwards.

Why? A little thing called campaign contributions. Riecke is a close friend of Sheriff Daniel Edwards and between the sheriff and his brother, Riecke has contributed $10,000 in campaign cash. He ain’t going anywhere.

Which brings me to my final point. T.J. Doss is a state trooper. He is a mostly ineffective chairman of the LSPC but as such, is in position to control investigations (or non-investigations in the case of those illegal campaign contributions by the LSTA) of trooper misconduct.

But not once did he attempt to investigate the actions of his former boss, Mike Edmonson. Not once was that infamous San Diego trip raised before the commission. But who in his right mind would want the dubious task of investigating one’s boss?

Which is precisely why there should be a prohibition against a State Trooper serving as chairman of the LSPC. It’s too much of a hot seat—or should be—for a State Trooper. Yes, the LSTA should be represented on the commission, which hears appeals of disciplinary action by troopers. But chairman? No indeed.

 

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The regular meeting of the Livingston Parish All-American Redneck Male Chauvinist Spittin’, Belchin’, and Cussin’ Society and Literary Club (LPAARMCSBCSLC) was over and physically exhausted members exited the back room of John Wayne Culpepper’s Lip-Smackin’ Bar-B-Que House and Used Lightbulb Emporium after a mind-numbing near-record session of 11 minutes and headed home.

As they filtered out the front door, LPAARMCSBCSLC President Harley Purvis and I retired to his reserved booth in the back in the corner in the dark to discuss the day’s latest news.

Harley likes to keep track of the legislature and to make pointed observations about some of its actions and today was no exception.

“I see the governor signed HOUSE BILL 231 by Rep. Major Thibaut,” he said.

Thibaut, a New Roads Democrat, authored the bill which allows the immediate family member of a mayor or any other member of the governing authority of a municipality with a population of five thousand or less or a legal entity in which the family member has an interest to enter into a transaction with the municipality subject, of course, to “certain conditions.”

“One of those ‘conditions,’” Harley said, his disgust readily apparent, “is that permission be obtained from the State Board of Ethics.

“After what that idiot Bobby Jindal did to the Ethics Board and state ethics laws back in 2008, a governmental entity could probably bring back public floggings in the town square if they go about it the right way,” he said.

He looked away briefly before turning back to me. “I thought we had made progress when we started prohibiting elected officials’ family members from doing business with the agency they represent. Now we’re right back where we were 70 years ago.”

“And there’s HOUSE BILL 162 by Rep. Rob Shadoin.”

Shadoin is a Republican from my home town of Ruston. “What about it?” I asked.

“Oh, nothing. It just prohibits the filing of a false lien against state officers and state employees. Why ain’t that already against the law? But what I’d really like to know is what precipitated Shadoin’s filing of this bill in the first place that brought the need for such a law to his attention? I know almost every year there’s a bill filed against local speed traps and it’s only because some legislator got hisself a ticket. I betcha there’s a story behind Shadoin’s bill that we don’t know about.”

Just as suddenly, Harley turned his attention to national events.

“Mitch McConnell really is the face of the Repugnantcans. I mean, look at his health care bill.

“It’s one thing that he is so desperate to do away with Obamacare that he’s willing to throw anything up against the wall to see if it’ll stick. I’m not happy with Obamacare because it needs to be tweaked. But damn it, if it needs tweaking, tweak it, don’t just eradicate it. You don’t roll your car over a cliff because the air conditioning goes out; you repair the AC and move on. But the mentality of the Repugnantcans is ‘We gotta do away with Obamacare, even if we do rip health care away from 23 million people. We have to abolish Obamacare even if we do reduce Medicaid benefits. We must erase all vestiges of Obamacare even if premiums do go up, and it’s essential to repeal Obamacare especially even if it means nice tax breaks to the rich.’

“It’s pretty obvious that the mindset of McConnell and his Repugnantcan co-conspirators is not to do what’s best for the country, but to do whatever they can to undermine America’s middle class and low-income citizens to the benefit of the great 1 percent. And it’s pretty disgusting to think that’s who is representing the citizens of this country.”

Harley had a lot on his mind today, so he continued:

“And it’s a shame about the shooting of Rep. Scalise. I don’t agree to his politics but I sure don’t agree with some nutcase being able to obtain guns—especially high-powered semi-automatic weapons—and trying to make some kind of insane political statement.

“But what really burns my butt is attempts by Repugnantcans to tag Bernie Sanders with this just because the crazy guy was a Bernie supporter. Hell, I was a Bernie supporter but I would never even think of owning an automatic weapon, much less using against anyone.

“What’s worse, though, is you got some Repugnantcans like Rep. Chris Collins, and the ultra-conservative MEDIA trying to blame Democrats’ political RHETORIC for the shooting. That’s just about the stupidest thing I ever heard. There’re others, like Rep. RODNEY DAVIS and even DONALD TRUMP JR who somehow saw the attack as the fault of Democrats.

“And wasn’t The Donald himself, when he was running for president, who encouraged his supporters to physically ATTACK protesters? I seem to remember he even offered to pay their legal bills if they did so. They all apparently forgot that Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords was also shot by a deranged maniac in 2011 and she’s a Democrat. But weren’t the Repugnantcans strangely quiet about that shooting?

“If you want to blame rhetoric, then maybe the Repugnantcans should be asking if their support of open carry laws and their support of semi-automatic weapons—bought and paid for by the NRA—might be a contributing factor to insane acts like this one. Perhaps the Repugnantcans should be questioning whether their fanatical support of weapons designed to kill people—and that’s the only purpose for those weapons—might be the problem.”

He drained his mug of stale coffee before going on. “Every time there’s a mass shooting with these killing machines, it’s awfully coincidental how the NRA rushes to the microphones to defend their sale and the Repugnantcans in Congress kill any efforts at banning them.

“And after each shooting, those same Repugnantcans run and hide behind the NRA which in turn, keeps their campaign contribution pipeline flowing wide open.”

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